Ilha Grande has an interesting history. First a pirate’s lair, then a leper colony, followed by a prison with Brazil’s worst, and finally a sleepy fishing village which nowadays also attracts tourists making their way out of Rio to the east. The town is vehicle free except for, according to Lonely Planet, a police vehicle, ambulance, and a fire truck. I have to add a construction vehicle and a Toyota truck I spotted transporting water if my memory serves. The island is really beautiful, but is more rainy and chilly in the off-season. There were a couple sunny beach-worthy days in the week that I was there. Also, it was surprisingly expensive in the off-season, with the best bargain for a private room being R$50, which was great considering the next cheapest was R$70.
The best way I heard the island described was by my girlfriend: “It’s like Jurassic Park, except with puppies instead of dinosaurs!!!”. This statement is absolutely true. The island is truly completely covered in dense jungle save for a small number of dirt blocks that comprise the town. This place reminds me of Dr. Grant and the gang flying into the island in a helicopter with that grand orchestra, ballad-style music in the background. The island is overrun by stray dogs that live a pretty good life; being fed the leftovers from pricey restaurants and sleeping on the grounds of local pousadas (guest-houses).
On the other side of the Island is Lopes Mendes, rated by many sites and travel guides as being among Brazil’s top-ten beaches. It takes a little while to get to. You have to take a boat from the town, about R$20 per person taking 40 minutes, then you arrive at another beach on the other side of the island and hike about 30 minutes through the jungle to come out of the path that opens up to Lopes Mendes. On this hike you’ll see ants that are about 1inch long, big enough to see very clearly their mandibles and big enough to be more worried about them then you would be of cute sugar ants. Their size and subsequent visible detail makes me think of the good-Samaritan ant in Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Except these ones aren’t nice, they leave pretty long-lasting bite marks and are hard as hell to kill. I smashed a couple in my hotel room and they keep coming at you with their legs torn off like the terminator. I may have just wrote more about the ants than about the beach. Although very beautiful, it is also very littered, a sign the locals haven’t become savvy to the idea of protecting their income generating tourist destination as a long term investment. When I arrived on the beach it unfortunately became cloudy and rainy lickety-split like and I had to vacate the premises prematurely. Very nice beach with amazing white powdery sand, good waves not too big for swimming and bluish-green water, but not top ten til they clean up the trash in my opinion.